Christian Maturity: Part II

Natural Versus Spiritual Maturity

Natural maturity, being mature as a mental and physical human being, is not comparable to spiritual maturity.

A person’s age does not always indicate maturity in either the natural or spiritual realms, but spiritual maturity is measured primarily by such indicators as the “Fruit of the Holy Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) and other indicators of growth, including true humility and leadership.

For example, the Apostle Peter told Believers to put aside the sins of immaturity, such as malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. Instead they needed to grow in respect to salvation by first receiving the pure “milk” of the Word.

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (I Peter 2:1-3)

The writer of the Book of Hebrews (whom I believe was the Apostle Paul, or at least one of his disciples) is even more direct:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)

The marks of the mature Christian, therefore, are clear. Mature Christians do not engage in sinful behaviors, and they also are obedient in following Christ’s instructions to teach and train new believers to become mature themselves.

Standing Firm

In addition, a number of admonitions from the Apostle Paul declare the power of not just resisting the captivity of sinfulness and temptation but also continuing to stand firm in the face of evil.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness. (Galatians 6:13-14))

Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 4:1)

Standing firm means exercising patience and stability in spite of the temptations to give up or turn away from Christ Jesus’ teachings to “take up the cross daily” (Luke 9:23) or walk the narrow and straight pathway to Heaven (Matthew 7:14).

The Apostle Paul, for example, exhorted his disciple Timothy to

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (II Timothy 4:2)
Exercising patience is one of the keys to opening the doors to the promises of God:
. . .so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:12)

Of these two enabling powers, faith and patience, the later is perhaps the most difficult, for it takes time to exercise patience. Too often we pray, “God, give me patience and give it to me now!” Consequently, like a child in the Walmart, impatient believers fall on the floor and cry because they cannot have the toys they have seen and want to take home. 

May the Lord reveal to us His paths to maturity as we seek to follow Him and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit!

*************************************************************

Please view this video of my message from July 13, 2014, on the subject of Spiritual Maturity:  Milk, Meat, or Metamucil?

Christian Maturity: Part I

Christian Maturity

Newborn babies are beautiful when they emerge into this world from their mothers’ wombs, especially when they recover from a difficult entry into the world, cry a while, and finally slip into a restful sleep.  They are so innocent and pure, yet we know that their true nature will become manifest very soon.  They are essentially self-centered, the center of their own universe, and only concerned about themselves.  And since they are innately sinful, they need to be taught how to be mature and sinless through Christ.
 
The Scriptures speak of all humans as being innately sinful, in need of spiritual rebirth:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24)
They need to be birthed into the Kingdom of Heaven, not merely the physical realm.  Jesus said to Nicodemus that a person needs to be “born again” if he is to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3).
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” (John 3:5-7)
Even Nicodemus, a spiritual leader in Israel, was told that he needed to be reborn in order to be truly spiritual and enter God’s Kingdom.  
This story leads us to the conclusion that even recently born children need to be reborn spiritually, for they have only been born into the natural world. Thus, although Jesus said, “A child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6), their understanding of the spiritual world is lacking, for they cannot see or understand spiritual truths.

Natural Versus Spiritual

Therefore, the first step towards Christian maturity is to be born a second time as a newborn into the Kingdom of God.  Otherwise, spiritual truths will not be understood or made a part of the person’s life and being:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. (I Corinthians 2:14-15
Our lives in Christ must not end where they begin, however, as spiritual infants, for we must grow and mature spiritually.
 
We begin with a hunger for the “milk of the word,” as Peter writes:
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (I Peter 2:1-3)
Yes, infants subsist on their mothers’ milk, but they soon must begin to grow and begin eating more solid foods.  The Apostle Paul’s message to the Corinthians chastises them for not growing beyond the infant stage.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (I Corinthians 3:1-3)
Thus, while we all delight in the infants and babies around us, we are very disappointed when they continue to act like babies into their later months and years of life.  And some older adults even tend to continue acting like babies and children later in life.

Marks of Immaturity

What are the marks of a lack of spiritual maturity? Babies in Christ are like human infants, who are lovable, cute, and look like their parents.  And although  we may overlook and forgive their lack of maturity, they will likely exhibit some of the following characteristics at one time or another:
  • Spiritual babies are still carnal, are governed by their five physical senses, rather than “walking in the Spirit” and moved by God’s Holy Spirit.
  • Spiritual babies, like natural infants, get dirty and soil themselves, easily led into the uncleanliness of sin in the world.
  • Spiritual babies think they know everything they need to know.
  • Spiritual babies are not always spiritually motivated and may lack the spiritual power to live righteously. Instead, they must be motivated by rules, laws, and regulations enforced by punishments and chastisements, rather than being guided by the Holy Spirit.
  • Like natural babies and immature children, spiritual babies are impatient and lack endurance in the midst of persecution, trials, or hardships.
  • Spiritual babies may be self-centered and inconsiderate, yet hard to please, especially when they are older adults.
  • Spiritual babies are easily deluded and deceived, following the latest sensational teaching or television trends without discernment.
  • Spiritual babies may easily take offense, hold grudges, and find it difficult to forgive others.
  • Like the Children of Israel in the wilderness, spiritual babies may be complainers and crybabies.
  • Some spiritual babies are mean spirited rather than exhibiting the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • Finally, like the immature children in the natural realm, spiritual babies may engage in bullying, teasing, and other group behaviors that seek to exercise control over others.

  

Stunted Growth Christians

Ironically, not all spiritual babies are young in years like natural children. Instead, some Christians have failed to grow up in all things in Christ:
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head,even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16)
Such immature Christians may even have assumed positions of leadership in the Church even though they essentially are spiritual babies, having failed to grow and mature in the Lord.
In addition, too often they have outlasted true spiritual leaders in the local church who may have moved on to other churches.  Consequently, these spiritual babies tend to assume more leadership than anyone else in the church because they have been around longer. “We have never done it this way,” they say, and they try to take control even over the physical facilities and make the building their “church,” rather than realizing that the people make up the true Church.  
 
Thus, Christians who have never fully matured in spite of their many years in the church may exhibit all of the same behaviors of spiritual babies, but they are even more ridiculously pathetic, similar to adults who think they are mature but are constantly drinking from a baby bottle, crying, or complaining.
 
The Book of Hebrews reveals the characteristics of some of these spiritually immature Christians:
Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
Thus, if they hear a message they have not heard before, or if it seems to contradict the basic doctrines they are familiar with, they will reject it the same way a little child will not eat adult foods. They have become “dull of hearing,” and therefore only hear what they want to hear rather receiving the “solid food” of mature believers.
 
The solution lies with the plans God has revealed through His Holy Spirit and the Scriptures: The ministries of the Holy Spirit have been given to the Church to bring about the full maturity of the members:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.  (Ephesians 4:11-13)

Who Are the Mature Believers?

By submitting to, and learning from, these spiritual leaders, the babies in Christ will grow to maturity, learning from the words and actions of the mature leaders in the Body:
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Ultimately, the time must also come when the Body of believers in the Church must even move past the basic teachings of the Word in order press on to the fullness of Christ’s ministry in the world.  This is what it says in Hebrews:
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits.
 Thus, the mature believers in the Church exhibit the following characteristics:
  • The mature believer is led by the Holy Spirit rather than the flesh, or the natural knowledge that only comes from the five physical senses.
  • A mature believer seeks not his or her own way, but dies daily to personal desires, taking up the cross to allow Christ to live inside.
  • A mature believer shares willingly with others and is not controlling or manipulative to receive acclaim or authority.
  • Thus, a mature believer does not engage in “pity parties” or use unspiritual methods to get his or her own way.
  • A mature believer is led by the Holy Spirit rather than the latest best selling book, popular cultural fad, or the desires of the flesh (five physical senses).
  • A Mature believer is humble and appreciative, giving thanks to God and others believers who do God’s work.
  • A mature believer is a teacher, helping others grow up in the life of Christ.
  • A mature believer is becoming more and more like Christ, being transformed into His image day by day.
  • A mature believer subsists not just on the “milk” of the Word, but on the “meat” of the Word. Thus, even their physical senses are “trained” to discern good and evil: (Hebrews 5:13-14).
We must determine to examine ourselves and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance to discern our own maturity level, seeking ultimately to be diligently prepared and powerful witnesses in the Lord’s Kingdom.

Knowing in Part: Seeing Through the Glass Darkly

 
 
Many Christians avoid discussing or even thinking about theological questions, mainly because they believe the issues cannot always be sufficiently resolved, at least using the mental tools we have.  
For example, how can a God who is the very definition of love make this statement about Rebekah’s unborn twins?
There was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13)
How can we quote from John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that Whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life,” yet also believe that God has predestined some for eternal life, while others will have no chance of obtaining salvation and will spend eternity in everlasting torment?
 
These and similar perplexities  have been the cause of division and strife throughout the history of the Church.
 
While the writings of the Apostles, particularly the Apostle Paul, attempt to clarify for the early believers the theological issues concerning salvation and the fulfillment of God’s covenant with the Church, the New Israel, for example, questions continue to this day over such seeming conflicts between free will and predestination or the “security of the believer” as opposed to the possible loss of salvation.
 
Very recently, for example, Andrew Wilson in the Christianity Today Weekly Newsletter wrote the following:

The paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is not meant to be resolved but rather retained. Scripture indicates that both God and we work in our salvation. (Wilson)

Even this attempt to clarify one of the issues is enigmatic, however, mainly because of the word “paradox” Wilson uses.  If theological issues are paradoxes, how can we determine what to believe?

Logical Fallacies

Helping students improve their writing skills in my Freshman Composition classes included not just studying grammar and style, but also such topics as “logical fallacies.” 

First, however, I had to demonstrate to the students that using logical fallacies in their writing was highly ineffective in convincing their readers (i.e. Dr. Jenkins) that their arguments were solidly reasoned and effectively argued.

For example, to justify their essay’s argument, they might find some esteemed “authority” that they chose to agree with, perhaps a professor or a celebrity, then argue that since “So-and-so” says so in his “tweet,” it must be true!”  Since so many people have become accustomed to hearing and using these fallacies in their daily lives, therefore, convincing students of their inadequacy was especially difficult.  

Post Hoc Fallacy

One of the most confusing of the many logical fallacies, for example, is the Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, which literally translated means, “after this, therefore because of this.”  In other words, since one event precedes another event, the first event must be the cause of the second.

Here is a typical post hoc fallacy statement:

The number of vaccines given children today parallels the number of children who are being diagnosed with autism. Therefore, vaccines need to be banned because they cause autism.

Vaccines may indeed cause autism, but this simplistic statement needs more convincing proof than the mere coincidental relationship between the two statistics. In this case, the idea that the statement is “perfectly reasonable” is unreasonable.

What Is a Paradox?

A paradox is not “two doxes”!

Paradoxical statements or arguments may likewise cause logical problems in academic or journalistic writing.  A paradox exists when two statements seem equally true, yet they cannot both be true.  Here’s an example of a common paradox found in many television commercials:

Just telephone us right now!  By investing in this product, you will save hundreds of dollars! But this offer won’t last long, so call now!

Just “spend money to save money” might seem to make no sense, but how many times have we fallen for the entrapment entailed in these appeals?

Such is the issue with the theological questions concerning God’s omniscience and the innate human ability to make free choices as a result of personal “free will.”

If we have been chosen and predestined, for example, do we have eternal security and therefore cannot lose our salvation no matter what we do or how we sin? Here is what one author wrote on this issue:

All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. (Qtd. on Horn)

Therefore, anyone who does not endure to the end was never truly “saved” in the first place, or so the argument goes.

On the other hand, was the writer of the Book of Hebrews mistaken when he wrote the following:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)

This issue has resulted in schisms and separations within the Church, resulting in whole denominations devoted to one side or the other in the debate.  

Here is the paradox:  If God’s omniscience reveals what we will ultimately do, then our choices have essentially already been determined.  If we indeed have unlimited free will, however, then our directions may change at any time and God does not have ultimate, omniscient sovereignty.

In addition, so many theologians and Bible teachers are guilty of the “hasty generalization” fallacy in their doctrines, assuming that from their own limited perspectives they know all they need to know, not acknowledging that only God is omniscient and knows all things.

The problems persist once these complex doctrines are expounded upon from ancient texts, or the spoken words of esteemed preachers are transcribed .  So many people decide that they agree with one particular author or teacher and become “followers” of a particular teaching.  They then strongly oppose anyone who might disagree, to the point that other obvious truths are ignored. Those who disagree are ostracized, shunned, or attacked, while those who agree smugly or proudly pose as the true experts who have been enlightened fully.

Ultimately, new denominations or sects are formed or new leaders ascend to the head of the table, leading to further confusion in the Body of Christ.

Mysteries

Instead, we need to recognize that we are neither omniscient nor omnipresent. And since we are neither timeless nor infinite, facts and conditions that are outside our knowledge or understanding invariably exist.  Thus, we cannot make definitive conclusions, or we will be guilty of the “hasty generalization” fallacy, making an inductive decision of what is true based on insufficient evidence.  

Instead, we need to do the best we can with what we have received, while remaining open to other possibilities that God may reveal to us.

Below is a diagram that demonstrates a possible explanation of the “paradox dilemma,” based on what the Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 13:12

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

Untitled drawing

The two points of the triangle at the bottom represent “truths” that we may believe to be true from our limited perspectives, yet they appear to contradict one another.  Thus, they are paradoxical.

How can they both be true?  

Yet they both lead upward to a place beyond our cognizance, above to the unseen world of the spirit.  If we could see beyond the gap between the flesh and the spirit, we could easily see how both contradictory truths ultimately meet.

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

This means that what we perceive as logically sound may not be logical based on what is ultimately true from God’s omniscient, omnipresent perspectives.  

Go Into All the World

Ultimately, arguing about whether a person is one of the “elect,” or whether I am predestined to be saved or not, or whether she is one whom God has called are questions that are contrary to the Great Commission Jesus gave to all of His disciples.  

He sent us out into the entire world to preach His Good News, that whoever desires His mercy may be saved.  We shouldn’t even consider the idea that we are wasting our time preaching to certain people because they might not predestined to be saved from sin anyway.  

We need to operate in faith, trusting that Jesus will send us to those who will receive the Word and desire to follow Him. Jesus said:

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Since all authority has been given to Christ Jesus, ours is not to question who or who will not receive His salvation, a salvation that is freely given to “all the nations,” a description that pretty much includes everyone!

 

WordPress Themes